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Crucial win over Southend gives Bradford City that Friday feeling!
Bradford City 2, Southend 0
Good Friday? More like a great one for City after this major step towards League Two survival.
Goals from James Hanson and Craig Fagan sealed the first win for seven games. The slide has been averted and how they deserved it.
Phil Parkinson had told his players to forget their miserable March. Cross it off, clear your heads and start again.
The free midweek had recharged batteries and minds and City responded with a display that should rubbish any drop fears.
Fans can breathe a lot easier over the Easter weekend ahead of Monday’s trip to Shrewsbury and the division’s only unbeaten home record.
Having done the double over Southend to add to another high-flying scalp in Torquay, City will head for the Welsh border in high spirits.
Parkinson had restored both Hanson and Nahki Wells to the City attack but new dad Kyel Reid was again on the bench after another drive up from London the previous night.
Skipper Michael Flynn continued on the left of midfield – where he had played frequently with Huddersfield before reprising the role the previous week at Plymouth.
If the home crowd were disappointed at seeing Reid only among the subs, they were more encouraged by the way City looked to get in Southend’s faces from the start.
But apart from one long-ranger from Ritchie Jones which Cameron Belford gobbled up, there was little incident in the opening exchanges.
A slip from Lee Bullock threatened to be costly, giving the ball back to Freddy Eastwood five yards outside the City box. The makeshift centre half got a toe back in before Bilel Mohsni wasted the chance by shooting early and wide.
City had to work hard defensively against the division’s second-top scorers and Mohsni’s shot on the turn was smothered by a wall of bodies.
Branston twice cleared Southend corners as the visitors looked to up a gear. But Belford was forced into an awkward save with his knees after Wells had twisted to create an opening.
Little had been seen of Eastwood in the first half-hour and the on-loan Coventry striker hardly showed Championship quality as he wafted an effort high into the Kop.
With the stakes high for both sides – one looking nervously over their shoulder, the other still chasing the top three – the overall standard was poor. But at this stage of the season, the result is everything.
The effort was certainly there, typified by the hard running from City’s front two, but the contest was lacking in skill. The subdued air of the crowd summed up the absence of any genuine excitement.
But that all changed on 38 minutes as the Bantams grabbed a priceless lead.
Fagan’s free-kick from the touchline was cleared out to the right flank where Flynn rescued it in space. His chipped cross was perfectly placed and Hanson hammered home the header for his 13th goal of the season.
Suddenly Valley Parade was alive. The drum in the TL Dallas Stand beat out the rhythm and the volume cranked up as Bullock nearly doubled the advantage with his close-range jab from a corner.
City threatened again when Hanson’s flick into the box caused panic among the blue ranks as Wells and Jones had shots blocked.
Then Hanson glanced a header wide from Fagan’s corner. City’s diminutive assistant boss Steve Parkin showed the big centre forward how it should be done, re-enacting the moment on the touchline.
Jones charged down Luke Prosser’s clearance to set up another break in stoppage time and Anthony Grant was booked for blocking off the midfielder.
But City had finished the half in control to raise hopes of an end to their recent poor run.
Fagan launched the first attack after the re-start but could not keep the shot down after charging forcefully through the middle.
Wells made a promising raid on the right wing, committing Mohsni to a sliding miss on the byline. But with targets to pick out, the Bermudian’s low cross was poor and the visitors scrambled it clear.
Southend’s afternoon got considerably harder, though, after 52 minutes when right back Sean Clohessy was sent off for a professional foul on Wells. Flynn picked off a Southend pass to send Wells clear and the right back nudged him over in the box.
Referee Eddie Ilderton immediately went for his red card before Fagan confidently put away the penalty.
With a two-goal advantage, City were full of confidence. Flynn, having had a hand in both goals, tried to get one of his own with a curler but Belford fielded comfortably.
Shrimpers boss Paul Sturrock had to go for broke and threw on two fresh strikers with half an hour remaining. The ineffective Eastwood was one of those to make way for Elliot Benyon and Neil Harris.
Southend had still not managed a shot on target to trouble Duke in his first game at Valley Parade for five months. Not that the keeper nor City themselves were complaining.
Southend had plenty to argue about though when they went down to nine men in the 69th minute. The assistant was flagging furiously after spotting Benyon kick out at Kozluk following a tackle.
Ilderton stopped play to consult with the official and sent the Southend sub packing.
The home crowd were loving it and Reid’s appearance for a warm-up run down the touchline brought more cheers.
The winger duly arrived into the action with 15 minutes left as Ravenhill left to another ovation. Reid was straight into typically impish mode, taunting the defence with the ball, and his cutback picked out Flynn for a shot which Prosser managed to deflect behind.
Chris Dagnall and David Syers joined him off the bench and Dagnall immediately whipped a cross-shot past the far post.
And Reid could have had a goal for his baby son after Anthony Grant slipped on the ball inside his own box. But his shot cleared the angle at the near post.
He forced another low save from Belford in stoppage time as the Kop broke out in a chorus of “We are staying up.”
Not yet. But this has stopped the rot and restored confidence on and off the pitch.